Chaos

By: Jonathan David Leavitt

the Mindmap

I (Jonathan) started out writing about mindmapping, a popular technique for making notes and structuring ideas, when I realized that in order to structure something, you had to have something to structure. And that something, in its purest and most extreme form, would be chaos. And that’s when I decided that I’d need to write about chaos before I wrote about mindmapping.

Chaos, of course, is a Greek word for what existed before everything else. In researching chaos I encoutered three delightful terms, Norse, not Greek: Ginnungagap, Niflheim, and Muspelheim. Niflheim was the intensely cold land of the dead to the north of Ginnungagap, and Muspelheim the realm of fire to the south. Ginungagap was the gap in between, empty, pretty much like the Greek idea of chaos. (There’s also a Norwegian choral group called Ginnungagap, but that’s a distraction.) According to Dickenson College’s website, “Ginnungagap is a great void. This abyss is said to be deceitful for in emptiness lies the primordial energy source that will later give birth to the world’s creation.” As they say in Yiddish, “Eppes gornisht,” which means, more or less, “absolutely nothing—now ain’t that something!”

Two paragraphs already, and we haven’t gotten very close to chaos, or in another sense, we haven’t gotten far enough away. Maybe a mathematical definition of chaos will help: Mathematically, chaos means an aperiodic deterministic behavior which is very sensitive to its initial conditions, i.e., infinitesimal perturbations of boundary conditions for a chaotic dynamic system originate finite variations of the orbit in the phase space. (Did that clear things up for you?) Physics has given us chaos theory, according to which it turns out, “As well as being orderly in the sense of being deterministic, chaotic systems usually have well defined statistics.” Fortunately, quantum chaology comes to the rescue, which is not as deterministic as the chaos theory of classical mechanics, and therefore might be considered more chaotic.

So what can we learn from this? Well, life seems to be all about bringing order out of chaos, but distinguishing chaos from all the order we are immersed in is more challenging than I would have believed. The most satisfactory description of chaos that I have found comes from the Wikipedia on Chaos (mythology): (1) it is a bottomless gulf where anything falls endlessly. This radically contrasts with the Earth that emerges from it to offer a stable ground. (2) it is a place without any possible orientation, where anything falls in every direction (3) it is a space that separates, that divides: after the Earth and the Sky parted, Chaos remains between both of them. Gee, it sorta sounds like the World Wide Web.

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Source: Jonathan’s CoffeBlog